May 1, 2006 20:08 | WebBlogging / WebTech

What is a "podcast"?

UPDATED (to be more precise in the answers I seek)

In your mind, is it:

"A podcast is like radio" ("radio" the medium, not the hardware/technoogy)
"A podcast is like a radio show" (the usage of the medium)

The difference is VERY significant. Please think about it and let me know.
Answers to this question very clearly indicate biases based on usage and understanding of what is, fundamentally, a profoundly simple thing: a media file URI culled out of a "blog entry" and highlighted in some fashion ("enclosures") in a syndication feed...


a podcast is scheduled (sometimes rather loosely, but scheduled nonetheless) - and also user-schedulable. so to me, podcast == radio show, radio == a transport protocol.

sorry if you wanted something more insightful!

i think i'd go with "radio show."

unless you mean "what is podcast" rather than what is _a_ podcast ... in which case I would say: podcast is. (ahem, like radio).

For me a podcast is like radio. Only with all of the stuff I don't want to listen to cut out.

I keep my iPod loaded up with all the shows I'm interested in. They are automatically updated so my time isn't wasted with scanning through stations as well as being able to "pause" my show and come back to it later.

Also my time isn't monopolized by having to be near a radio at a certain time on a certain station in a certain place. I can listen to them on a plane, in a hotel room in Atlanta, or in my car way up North where I don't get any stations at all.

like a, "radio show", doesn't remind me much of my radio ;)

It's a bunch of tech pundits, armchair-quarterbacking Google & Microsoft's attempts to monetize user-generated content. The conversation is so hot, so now, that it simply can't wait to be typed up and must be released in audio form.

I mean radio show.

I love getting music in podcast form, especially home-brewed mix shows. The talking shows, not so much.

michal - keep loooking, i think you'll find something you like sooner or later. there's some great stuff out there

to me podcasts are like canned food, radio is more like a shower

dunno about anyone else but i think i'm about ready to be told why this is VERY significant :-)

I will not talk about podcast, but radio, or rather I will quote someone else: Gaston Bachelard - Le droit de rêver (Rêverie et radio).

Le concept est le suivant : les bergsoniens ont parlé d'une biosphère, c'est-à-dire d'une couche vivante où il y a des forêts, des animaux, des homems même. Les idéalistes ont parlé de la noosphère, qui est une sphère de pensée. On a parlé de la stratosphère, de la ionosphère : la radio, heureusement, bénéficie d'une couche ionisée. Quel est le mot qui convient pour cette parole mondiale ? C'est la logosphère. Nous sommes des citoyens de la logosphère.


La radio est une fonction d'originalité. Elle ne peut pas se répéter. Elle doit créer chaque jour du nouveau. Elle n'est pas simplement une fonction qui transmet des vérités, des informations. Elle doit avoir une vie autonome, dans cette logosphère, dans cet univers de la parole cosmique qui est une réalité nouvelle de l'homme. Il faut qu'elle aille chercher dans le fond humain des principes d'originalité.


Donc parler de la maison à n'importe qui. En parler tranquillement. En parler par la radio, au moment où l'on ne voit pas l'individu, au moment où il ne voit personne. Car l'absence d'un visage qui parle n'est pas une infériorité ; c'est une supériorité ; c'est précisément l'axe de l'intimité, la perspective de l'intimité qui va s'ouvrir.[…cut…]La radio doit dire le soir aux âmes malheureuses, aux âmes lourdes : « il s'agit de rentrer dans le monde nocturne que tu vas choisir. »

The answer is neither. Why is radio even in the picture? Podcasts (and video blogs) are not like broadcasting at all. You don't need megabucks to create them, they're not regulated, they can include whatever content you want, do them whenever you want (or don't want). Just because they're aural in nature doesn't mean that they're fundamentally similar with radio or radio programs. They can be anything you want them to be, and anyone can do them - fundamentally different from mass media. It's like asking if blogs are more like books or magazines. It's neither.

Andy, apologies for using a metaphor too closely related. My point is not to compare podcasting to radio, but rather to find out whether people, when they hear the word "podcast" think "medium" or "message" (to be perfectly blunt and McLuhan-ish about it).

When you hear the word "podcast!" do you think "some sort of package of data!" or "a mechanism used to deliver data!"

It is very subtle, but in my role as a UI / user experience designer, the distinction is VERY important and it is unclear to me now which view is prevalent.

In fact the answer is not "neither" but "both". I just want to know which is closer to what normal people think. (I say that because I am one who builds podcasting systems. To me "podcasting" is a medium. Just as "radio broadcasting" were if I set up transmitters etc...)

All the feedback thus far has been interesting but mostly beside this very point, which I am sorry I didn't not make very clear at the onset. What IS coming across fairly clearly is most of you see Podcasting as "the show" (the message), and not a very good one at that. Hehehe.

As far as the technology goes, it is dismal and poor. A totally inelegant hack poorly implemented. That's why it is SO stunning and fascinating at once to see it become the single fastest medium uptake in the history of communication. Probably because it is so basic. It's really just "pointing out a media file in a blog entry." I wrote a Wordpress plugin to do that that runs maybe 5 lines.

Anyways. ramblin. Carry on!

Podcasts are really neither, because 'radio' is always terrestrial bound by the range of waves and 'radio show' is a format that need not apply to a podcast.

to be fair though, 'podcast' is a term that is too specific, that will eventually grow to encompass all sorts of time shifted audio and video. the expression isn't descriptive enough but it stuck, so what are you going to do.

I'm not exactly sure what you're getting at, but methinks that much of the confusion comes from the problem that the word "podcast" is used both for a single episode (ie. audio file) and the subscription feed (ie. rss2). So, my answer would be that due to some ugly semantics, it is both.

Maybe too many assumptions in your question?

* People maybe don't know the difference or don't make a difference between radio and radio show. Or they have their own understanding of it.

* Then they don't necessary relate radio/radio show to medium/message the way you do.

It's tricky because then a lot of noise is introduced along the answers (and we both know there will never be a perfect question.)

I'm pretty sure the answers will vary/change depending on the community, as in People who bought a mp3 player and have access to a software/site proposing them automatic download in their mp3 player and People (geeks - the community here) who know that what is an "mp3 player", what is a "digitized sound", where to find "weblogs" with podcast.

And the funny thing is that the ones who don't know the technology are more likely to qualify it as a message if the technology is transparent enough to not make cause them troubles.

When you first asked the question, I replied something which was not exactly my train of thoughts. Maybe because of French:

1. Radio (object) =(fr)=> "Poste de radio" or "radio"
2. Radio Show (one show) =(fr)=> "Émission de radio" or "émission"
3. Radio (Business Entity) =(fr)=> "radio"

when you asked your question, I thought the difference between 2 and 3 and not 1.

One podcast file would equate for me to 2. (émission de radio). A selection of podcast files would equate for me to 3.

What about the 1? It doesn't matter for me. Like the newspaper, I don't read a piece of paper, I read either an article from a journalist, about a specific topic OR a newspaper (aka Le Monde diplomatique, Japan Times).

the original question referred to "a podcast" but the verb "podcasting" has crept into the answer.

Yes indeed, "to podcast" is the action of providing "a podcast". Nothing to do with the question at hand.

A question which has been answered to my satisfaction, and expectations. Thanks all!

Nothing like radio, in my book.
It's not a broadcast and not a show, except perhaps incidentally in the contents of the file. (Is it still a podcast if it's just one song with no commentary? Or is it that the message defines the medium?)

Why pigeonhole a perfectly good (though decidedly flawed) distribution method as something to be listened to only in a car or on an iPod?

It's just a download. Just a file. Sometimes served up via RSS, but essentially just an audio file. When MP3s came along, nobody tried to coin it as a new media, or give it a nifty name—it was just a "song" or "download" or "MP3," which, after all, was stuck with an acronym for a phrase as decidedly un-sexy as "Motion Picture Experts Group Layer Three."

But with "podcasts," nobody's casting anything. It's like having a delicatessen called "Free Delivery" that only allows take-away. Sure, it may seem that the files are automatically delivered to your iPod, but in reality, your computer sent out an errand boy every little while to see if there's a fresh file and then copy it to your ipod. Big difference.

The technology is really nothing new either. You could have done this twenty years ago with a gopher server and a shell script.

Of course, twenty years ago, the bandwidth sucked, so we did the same thing with a far more revolutionary technology - the home made mixtape.
(Prompting the UK group Bow Wow Wow to release "C-30, C-60, C-90 Go!" as the first ever Cassette Single, with, appropriately-enough, a song called “Sun, Sea, and Piracy” on the flip side...)